The lobbyist who rented Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt a room in his Capitol Hill townhouse is being pressured to retire from his firm earlier than previously planned, The Daily Beast has learned.
J. Steven Hart, the chairman of Williams & Jensen, had been considering leaving this year, four sources familiar with his thinking said. But the emergence of the scandal surrounding his association with Pruitt has expedited talk of his departure as officials at the powerhouse lobbying shop grapple with the resulting bad press.
Hart is under pressure internally to make a quicker break amid concern that his continued presence on the firm’s masthead has become problematic for certain clients. But others inside Williams & Jensen do not want to give off the impression that Hart acted improperly in renting a townhouse to Pruitt—an implication that would come should he leave the firm in the midst of the Pruitt-related fallout.
One source told The Daily Beast that no final decision is imminent. But another said that exit plans have already been discussed between Hart and other members of the firm’s brass.
Hart is one of the most influential lobbyists in D.C. having spent decades pushing the business interests of some of the nation’s largest companies in the halls of Congress. His days as an influence-peddling hustler have long since passed, with contemporaries saying he now plays more of a ceremonial, rainmaker role. But he remains one of the biggest draws at Williams & Jensen, owing to the rolodex he has amassed over decades of work.
That rolodex is, in part, how the Pruitt apartment deal came to be. Hart hails from Oklahoma and both donated to and organized fundraising events for Pruitt when he served as attorney general of the state. When Pruitt came to D.C. and was in need of a place to stay, an intermediary put the two back in touch, a source familiar with the arrangement told The Daily Beast. Hart’s wife, Vicki Hart, is the co-owner of the townhouse that was offered to the EPA chief.
A spokesman for William & Jensen declined to comment, though previously, Hart has noted that the condominium “is not owned by [the firm], its partners, or any other employees of the firm, and any suggestion that Administrator Pruitt’s short-term rental of one of its bedrooms in 2017 resulted in undue influence for the firm or its clients with business before the EPA is simply false.”
The Pruitt arrangement is now a part of Trump-era infamy. Pruitt paid just $50 a night for the room he rented, which also served as a site for Williams & Jensen-hosted fundraisers for GOP lawmakers. Pruitt insisted that neither Hart nor the firm had any clients with business before the EPA at the time. But there were several companies who were lobbying the agency and/or had pending legal matters before it.
The living arrangement caused headaches in real time as well. Pruitt was described by numerous sources as a disastrous tenant, with one comparing him to Owen Wilson’s character in You, Me and Dupree. According to three people familiar with events, Pruitt would not take out the trash during his time staying at the townhouse believing that a cleaning service would do it for him. There was no cleaning service that came with the apartment, however. And the garbage bags piled up to the point that Vicki Hart was forced to tell him to put them in the canister and to take that canister out to the street the next time he left the building.
“Tenant from hell,” said one source.
The EPA declined to comment on Pruitt’s trash habits and condo-guest conduct.
Pruitt was initially supposed to stay from February through April 1, 2017. But he repeatedly asked to extend his lease. Ultimately, the Harts had to inform him that they had plans to rent his room to another tenant and, according to Politico, change the locks so that he could physically no longer stay.
—with additional reporting by Betsy Woodruff